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CAMI's Pick: From Here to Everywhere - The MMCA Sri Lanka



The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka is an education-led initiative that aims to establish a public museum dedicated to the display, research, collection and conservation of modern and contemporary art for the benefit and enjoyment of the general public, schools and tourists. It is a priority of the museum to become an institution where learning is inclusive, collaborative, sustainable, and transformative. These priorities are informed and shaped by continuing conversations with educators, artists, community partners, teachers, students, and researchers.


In today's digital world, how can museums continue to inspire curiosity and ignite artistic passion? In this interview, the Children's Art Museum of India (CAMI) speaks with Pramodha Weerasekera, Curator- Education and Public programmes at the MMCA Sri Lanka and delves into museum’s process of selecting and developing educational materials, highlighting their commitment to fostering creativity, connection, and meaningful learning experiences in the Digital Age.


1. How do you ensure that the learning materials on the MMCA Sri Lanka website cater to the diverse learning styles and abilities of children?


When the museum opened in 2019 with its first exhibition ‘one hundred thousand small tales’, we designed a pilot programme to engage with schools and universities. We identified and shortlisted 50 institutions to approach. Initial conversations got off to a good start with many, but had to stop abruptly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

These materials were developed during the pandemic, after three months of research. The research was about how schools were adapting to these unexpected changes with the limited resources they had. All of these exercises were designed with the pressures of online/remote learning in mind. While they can be printed out at home, they can also be read on a webpage and the whole family can participate. 


2. Can you describe the process behind selecting and developing this educational content?


The research process was extensive. We interviewed educators from various schools in our pilot programme. Simultaneously, we looked at how other museums and arts organisations were responding to the sudden circumstances of the pandemic. With physical contact being very limited, education using online tools was gaining traction. 

It was a team effort of seven of us back in 2020. The Education desk of the museum gave a few prompts to the team in relation to the exhibition, specifically to think about an artwork that resonated with them. They all wrote a few sentences explaining why, and a few of them also suggested an activity a child as young as 6 would be able to do with the support of a caregiver. We selected four of these reflections. 

We also worked with Museum Associates Praveen Thilakaratne who developed an activity about aliens, imagination, and philosophy, and Phusathi Liyanaarachchi who developed a creative writing activity using a list of items in an everyday grocery bill. Artist Jasmine Nilani Joseph developed a series of 14 drawings which speak of her complex relationships with Jaffna and Vavuniya, two towns in Sri Lanka which she travels between. 

After initial edits to the text, we worked with a designer, Emile Molin, who was incredibly helpful in making the visual and functional elements of the materials come into effect. He thought of the square ruled design (in keeping with a typical square ruled exercise book), and the title of each learning resource was arranged in a puzzle-like manner for children to improve their reading and comprehension skills.  


3. How do you integrate interactive elements or multimedia resources, to engage children in meaningful ways?


Today, children grow up with a lot of multimedia resources around them, whether it is their tablet at home or the computer at their school library. However, meaningful learning is perhaps not something that children are drawn towards in such devices. Entertainment and distraction from the real world are what a lot of children are drawn to. For the MMCA Sri Lanka, it is important to use all tools, including multimedia resources, to help children make meaning of the world around them. 

We do not fully stay away from electronic devices––there is one learning material where part of the activity is to browse YouTube and respond to a music video with dance. Our current exhibition, ‘88 Acres’ has a display which includes a 1:1 scale recreation of the living room of a house, alongside video projections of a window with wind blowing through, and a cupboard with a boy opening and closing the doors. These are a few examples of interactive and multimedia resources that we have used to encourage children to think creatively about the world around them.


4. In what ways do these learning materials align with the educational goals and objectives of the museum’s exhibitions and collections?


Despite being a new museum, we started with the educational goals of inclusivity, accessibility, and transformation. In preparing these learning materials we tried to think about all of the above with care. The activities are trilingual and easily accessible as PDFs on our website. The design is simple yet thought-provoking and functional; it is A4 sized and it can be printed in colour or black and white on a home inkjet printer. Since 2022, we have actively practised Social Emotional Learning at the museum through a special programme called MMCA Afterschool. Looking back, the online learning materials helped us to think through this approach and experiment with it in a practical way. 



CAMI's Takeaway


The conversation with Pramodha Weerasekera of the MMCA Sri Lanka has provided the Children's Art Museum of India (CAMI) with valuable insights and inspiration. Their commitment to fostering creativity, connection, and meaningful learning experiences through their educational initiatives is truly commendable. Their approach to selecting and developing engaging materials for the digital age is particularly noteworthy.


Visit MMCA Srilanka for their exclusive educational initiatives on https://mmca-srilanka.org/



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